Sean Trende, in the process of noting that, really, Obama’s numbers are grotesquely bad right now, mentioned independent voters:
Given the enthusiasm gap between the parties, the 2012 electorate will probably be roughly split between Republicans and Democrats. Independent voters will therefore hold the key to the election.
Consider these three 2010 Senate challengers frequently cited as examples of candidates who are too extreme to win. It’s a little-known fact that Ken Buck won independents by 16 points in Colorado. In Nevada, Sharron Angle won them by four points. Even Christine O’Donnell, who is something of the ultimate warning sign against Tea Party excess, lost independents only by three points. They all lost their races in large part because they faced Democrat-heavy electorates. Had the electorates been evenly split between the parties, all three would have run very close races.
Whatever their faults, Romney, Gingrich, and Perry are not Christine O’Donnell-style candidates.
For the record, though: Buck nearly won, at that; I largely blame Tom Tancredo’s near-successful attempt to destroy the Colorado Republican party* for that particular loss. But the overall point is correct: if the Republicans and Democrats are matched, and Obama loses the independents, he’s a one-term President. That much is a truism; what is not a truism is that independents are going to be necessarily more hostile to a conservative candidate than they will be towards a liberal one…
*You can imagine the reaction by Colorado Republicans when I casually mentioned that during a Blogcon 11 reception (which was, of course, in Denver). That was a pretty good conversation, which reminded me that regional differences really do need to be taken into account by strategists. Mountain West Republicans react well to libertarian arguments; social conservative arguments, not so much sometimes.